Debate and discussion: The limits of "no compromise"

Submitted by Anon on 27 April, 2004 - 8:59

Mark Sandell (Solidarity 3/49) claims that I "say there is a mass pro-hijab revolt by French Muslim girls". In Solidarity 3/48 I wrote: "I made it clear in... Solidarity 3/46... that I do not believe that there is a mass revolt of Muslim girls demanding the right to wear the veil". The word "not" changes the sense.
A minority of French Muslim teenagers do want to wear the hijab. They see the new French anti-hijab law not as a liberation from parental pressure - in fact, many of their Muslim parents are anti-hijab - but as an imposition by upper-class authority.

The predictable result of the law - predicted by some of its own architects - is many of those girls moving to Catholic or Muslim schools (unaffected by the new law), and others, over 16, dropping out of education.

Some French Muslim teenagers will welcome the law as giving them an added bulwark against pro-hijab peer pressure; others will submit sullenly, or fight a guerrilla war against it.

These results will set back secularism and women's liberation, rather than advance them; strengthen the hand of the (male) Islamist cadres, rather than weaken it.

Mark responds that the hijab ban has a "logic" that will "demand" the shutting down of religious schools. A sort of secularist "permanent revolution" dynamic? In fact the new law is being put through by a very right-wing government under electoral pressure from the fascistic and fanatically anti-Muslim Front National. It is not at all in the grip of any revolutionary democratic secularist "logic" or dynamic.

Mark further rejects any compromises or fudges "to keep Muslim girls in state education" because such compromises can be "endless" and abandon everything.

Yes, all compromise raises the question of where the limits lie. My best guess is that the most workable "limit" on this is compulsory inclusion of students in the full curriculum, rather than exclusion for what they wear.

But there are limits on the other side too - limits on how far any government, even a revolutionary workers' government, should be a Jacobin or Blanquist dictatorship of virtue, yielding no compromise in its drive against unenlightened ideas and customs.

For example: if it did not want needlessly to feed counter-revolution, a revolutionary workers' government would indeed (despite Mark) "negotiate" an end to religious schools - preparing the ground, discussing transition measures, offering their teachers jobs in state schools, seeing what of their facilities could be ceded to voluntary religious practice while others were incorporated into secular state schooling - rather than just send the Red Guards to padlock them.

A revolutionary workers' government would be ill-advised to start its secularist measures with rigid legislation against teenage girls wearing the hijab in school.

Even a revolutionary workers' government should be sensitive and cautious in dealing with people's prejudices, and doubly so with the special prejudices of a disadvantaged and oppressed minority. And for sure we can entirely maintain our principled secularism while dissociating from the insensitivity, arrogance and hypocritical opportunism of the Raffarin-Chirac government.

Martin Thomas

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.